These National Parks are the Best in the Midwest

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View of Hot Springs National Park, one of national parks in the midwest

Don’t overlook the many national parks in the Midwest. They are some of the most beautiful parks in the nation and offer stunning scenery, educational opportunities, and many outdoor activities.

Keep reading to learn more about some of the best national parks in the Midwest.

What Are the States in the Midwest?

Many think the Midwest consists of only a few states, such as the Dakotas, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska. And they often only think of farmland. In reality, the Midwest includes more than that. 

According to the National Park Service, the Midwest states include Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. 

This region is known for its temperate climate and abundance of national parks, including Badlands National Park, Hot Springs National Park, and many other units. 

The Midwest is also home to several major cities, including Chicago, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee. In addition to its natural beauty and urban centers, the Midwest is also known for its strong agricultural tradition, making it an essential part of the United States.

How Many National Park Designations Are in the Midwest Region?

The Midwest region of the United States is home to 61 national park sites, including national parks, national monuments, national historic sites, national lakeshores, and national recreation areas. 

You’ll find eight national parks in the region, including Isle Royale National Park in Michigan and Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. 

And while not every Midwest state includes a national park, they all have a national park designation. And Ohio leads the pack with eight sites.

No matter the state, many national park units offer various recreational opportunities, from hiking and camping to fishing and boating. In addition, they also provide opportunities to learn about the region’s natural and cultural history.

Best National Parks in the Midwest Region

How do you know which national parks in the Midwest to visit? Our first answer is to say all of them.

However, that’s quite daunting, so we’ve listed 10 of the best. In addition to the parks, you’ll also find national lakeshores, historic sites, and national scenic trails and rivers. 

Hot Springs National Park

Location: The Visitor Center is located in the Fordyce Bathhouse on 369 Central Ave., Hot Springs, AR.

About the Park: Hot Springs National Park is a must-see for anyone interested in the history and culture of the Midwest. The park has several historic bathhouses and ancient thermal springs. 

Visitors can also enjoy stunning mountain views, unique geological formations, and forested hikes. And if that wasn’t enough, the park also boasts a brewery. 

Why It’s Worth a Visit: Welcome to Bathhouse Row, where you can enjoy the unique experience of soaking in a natural hot spring. Buckstaff and Quapaw Bathhouses are two historical places you can still enjoy today. Come to soak in a private bath or enjoy a steam cave. 

The thermal springs are piped directly into these bathhouses, offering users an authentic experience.

In the late 1800s, people began regularly using the hot springs, making them more popular. Then between 1892 and 1923, buildings began to pop up around them, creating the bathhouses on Bathhouse Row. 

All are located in town with other shops and restaurants, making this a unique national park.

View of Hot Springs National Park, one of national parks in the midwest

Isle Royale National Park

Location: You’ll need to take a boat, a ferry, or a seaplane to access this national park on an island in Lake Superior in northern Michigan.

About the Park: Isle Royale National Park is known for its rugged and isolated wilderness. The island is home to various outdoor activities for every style of adventure lover, including hiking, camping, fishing, kayaking, and much more.

In addition to its natural beauty, the island also features several historic buildings, including cabins and lighthouses, helping maintain its rich history.

Why It’s Worth a Visit: The fact that this Midwestern national park is on an island makes it worth a visit. But aside from that and typical outdoor activities, you can also scuba dive at this national park. 

Camping here can also be quite the experience, from traditional tent camping or glamping to boat camping. Add hiking trails and all the watersports you can imagine, and you won’t be bored here, unless you choose to be. 

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Location: Upper Peninsula of Michigan on Lake Superior between Munising and Grand Marais.

About the Park: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore has various landscapes, including sandstone cliffs called the Au Train formation. This has created many stunning waterfalls. You’ll also find lush forests, sandy dunes, and pristine beaches. 

Shipwrecks, logging, and maritime activities have shaped the park for decades, and today it is one of the most popular national parks in the Midwest. 

Why It’s Worth a Visit: Visitors to this national park can enjoy a wide range of activities, from swimming and kayaking to bicycling and backcountry camping. In the winter, you can also go snowshoeing and ice fishing. 

The park is also home to numerous waterfalls, including Munising Falls and Bridalveil Falls.

And, of course, no visit would be complete without taking a walk along one of the park’s many beaches, including Sandpoint Beach, Miners Beach, Chapel Beach, and more. 

Voyageurs National Park

Location: Located in northern Minnesota on the Canadian border just west of The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. For the best access to the park, you will need to enter by boat.

About the Park: Many people often think of the Midwest as an inland area with vast prairies and little in the way of forests or water. However, Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota is a beautiful example of the diversity that national parks in the Midwest can offer. 

With 218,055 acres, Voyageurs National Park contains a diverse ecosystem of cliffs, wetlands, forests, lakes, and more. Visitors to the park can travel through interconnected waterways and explore the beauty of Rainy Lake. 

Why It’s Worth a Visit: Because it is so far north, visiting Voyageurs offers the possibility of viewing the Aurora Borealis, or what many of us call the Northern Lights.

Head to Minnesota for this Midwest national park for a light show, a hike, a water adventure, or a camping trip. You can even rent a houseboat. 

Badlands National Park

Location: You can enter at the park headquarters at 25216 Ben Reifel Rd., Interior, SD, or from three other entrances.

About the Park: Badlands National Park in South Dakota spans 244,000 acres. It gets its name from the Lakota people. They called it “mako sica,” meaning “bad lands.” It was called this because of the extreme difficulty of traversing it.

You’ll see unique features and landscapes like no other. According to the National Park Service, “These striking geologic deposits contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Ancient horses and rhinos once roamed here.” 

Why It’s Worth a Visit: Badlands National Park is worth a visit because of its diverse wildlife and geological beauty. It is home to bison, bighorn sheep, and more.

The national park also has many different scenic drives, such as the Badlands Loop Road and Sage Creek Road, to help you experience the beauty of this wonderland.

View of Badlands National Park, one of the national parks in the midwest

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Location: Northwestern Lower Michigan on Lake Michigan, Visitor Center – 9922 Front St., Empire, MI

About the Park: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of the Midwest’s most popular national park units.

The park gets its name from a sand dune that looks like a sleeping bear, which the indigenous people used as a natural landmark when traveling through the region. 

Today, the park has miles of sand dunes, 450-foot towering bluffs, coastal villages, and forested lakes along Lake Michigan. 

Why It’s Worth a Visit:  At Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, you’ll find plenty to do, including kayaking, canoeing, swimming, hiking, biking, and camping. 

The highlight of the national lakeshore is the 7.4-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. It loops through the Beech-Maple Forest and offers views of Glen Lakes, the dunes, and Lake Michigan. 

The South Manitou Island Lighthouse is also a popular sightseeing spot, and it’s worth the 117-step climb to the top, where you’ll be 104 feet above Lake Michigan.

Keep in Mind: Before your visit to Michigan, you need to add the Tunnel of Trees to your to-do list! Check out our Guide to Michigan’s Stunning Tunnel of Trees

Chimney Rock National Historic Site

Location: 1.5 miles south of Highway 92 on Chimney Rock Road near Bayard, Nebraska

About the Park: This historic site includes Chimney Rock, a 325-foot rock formation that serves as a prominent landmark in the region.

Historically, people recognized it as a prominent symbol of the West when people traveled along the Oregon Trail. The park also includes Scotts Bluff National Monument, which protects 3,000 acres of bluffs and grasslands. 

Why It’s Worth a Visit: Chimney Rock and Scotts Bluff are popular destinations for hikers and nature lovers. It offers stunning views of the surrounding area and is a great place to enjoy the beauty of the Midwest.

Additionally, it is a fantastic place to learn about the region’s history and the travelers that explored this area for the first time.

View of Chimney Rock National Historic Site, one of the national parks in the midwest

Brown V. Board of Education National Historic Site

Location: 1515 SE Monroe St., Topeka, KS

About the Park: “The path to equality has been anything but smooth.” This is what you first read when you visit Brown V. Board of Education National Historic Site’s homepage. It draws you in as it should. 

In 1954 the Supreme Court decided that the segregation of children in public schools based on race was unconstitutional. This historical park is a memorial to a decision that began a journey to justice.

Why It’s Worth a Visit: The onsite museum at this national park unit in the Midwest is worth every ounce of your time.

With exhibits, galleries, tours, and recreated classrooms, you’ll learn about the importance of this historic decision and why we should never forget it.

North Country National Scenic Trail

Location: Central North Dakota at Lake Sakakawea State Park through Central Vermont in the Green Mountains.

About the Park: Extending through eight states, the North Country Scenic Trail stretches for 4,600 miles. It begins in North Dakota and ends in Vermont, offering hikers diverse terrain.

Why It’s Worth a Visit: On this national trail, you’ll experience lowlands, highlands, national forests, lakes, and everything in between.

Whether a through-hiker or a day-hiker, don’t miss the community and nature experienced along this trail.

Niobrara National Scenic River

Location: The best access point is near Valentine, Neb., in North Central Nebraska.

About The Park: The Niobrara National Scenic River starts in eastern Wyoming and flows just over 500 miles. It then combines with the Missouri River in northeastern Nebraska.

The NPS designated 76 miles of this waterway within this part of the Midwest as a national scenic river. It protects the natural environment of the Nebraska Sandhills region.

Why It’s Worth a Visit: The rock formations along the river’s route make this national park site well worth your time. 

Whether you’re visiting the formations of Ash Hollow, Valentine, or Rosebud, know that this place contains fossils of many mammalian species. So you get to experience nature and its history.

Keep in Mind: Are there states without any national park? Find out What States Have No National Parks here!

View of Niobrara National scenic river, one of the national parks in the midwest

Don’t Overlook the National Parks of the Midwest Region

Overlooking the national parks of the Midwest region would be a shame.

Take time to find an overlook to catch the beauty of them. And now that you have a plethora of knowledge about some of the best national park units in the Midwest, you can make an educated decision about what to visit first.

But rest assured, with 61 sites, if you miss one, you’ll find another right around the corner.

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